The DeHavilland Blog

Friday, May 19, 2006

Cheating the system

From The Simpsons:

Bart: Well Dad, here's my report card. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Homer: [incredulously] A-plus?!? You don't think much of me, do you boy?
Bart: [almost proudly] No sir!
Homer: You know a D turns into a B so easily. You just got greedy.
-- from the 'Kamp Krusty' episode

Cheating and education have gone hand in hand for a long time. But we usually think of it in terms of students, not the administrators, right?

According to Education Sector, individual grade-changing is small fry - a real achievement would be rigging the grades of an entire state, which is exactly what many are doing to varying degrees. From their report "Hot Air: How States Inflate Their Educational Progress Under NCLB":

Critics on both the Left and the Right have charged that the No Child Left Behind Act tramples states' rights by imposing a federally mandated, one-size-fits-all accountability system on the nation's diverse states and schools.

In truth, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) gives states wide discretion to define what students must learn, how that knowledge should be tested, and what test scores constitute “proficiency”—the key elements of any educational accountability system. States also set standards for high school graduation rates, teacher qualifications, school safety and many other aspects of school performance. As a result, states are largely free to define the terms of their own educational success.
Unfortunately, many states have taken advantage of this autonomy to make their educational performance look much better than it really is. In March 2006, they submitted the latest in a series of annual reports to the U.S. Department of Education detailing their progress under NCLB. The reports covered topics ranging from student proficiency and school violence to school district performance and teacher credentials. For every measure, the pattern was the same: a significant number of states used their standard-setting flexibility to inflate the progress that their schools are making and thus minimize the number of schools facing scrutiny under the law.

Some states claimed that 80 percent to 90 percent of their students were proficient in reading and math, even though external measures such as the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) put the number at 30 percent or below. One state alleged that over 95 percent of their students graduated from high school even as independent studies put the figure closer to 65 percent. Another state determined that 99 percent of its school districts were making adequate progress, while others found that 99 percent of their teachers were highly qualified. Forty-four states reported that zero percent of their schools were persistently dangerous.

This sort of dishonestly boggles the mind - one, that people try it, and two, that we let them get away with it. You've got to admit that we make it easy by not setting uniform definitions of key educational metrics - for example, we don't even have consensus on how to define a dropout, much less what it means to be "proficient" in any particular area. But that doesn't excuse this kind of trickery - it's simply unconscionable.

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